13 October 2023

Northern Ireland’s media are turning a blind eye to republicans’ pro-Hamas rhetoric


Throughout the western world, there have been some fairly grim public reactions to the terrorist attacks in Israel.  

If you are a reasonable person, of course, you were simply shocked and revolted by Hamas slaughtering hundreds of innocent party-goers, dragging vulnerable people from their homes to butcher them in the streets and unleashing a torrent of murder, rape and abduction on civilians. For some academics, politicians and commentators, their first instinct was not to condemn this barbarity, but to frame it instead as a response to Israeli ‘persecution’ or ‘colonialism’.    

Some individuals went further, expressing their support for the crimes openly by displaying Palestinian symbols, spouting terrorist slogans or venting their hatred for Jews outside the Israeli embassy in London. In Great Britain, the fashion for radical politics has certainly allowed extreme views to edge into mainstream institutions, while unprecedented immigration has changed our society in ways that we still don’t fully understand.

This instinctive, rabid anti-Israel sentiment is horrible, and it is growing, but it remains, for now, largely on the political fringes. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, where leading personalities from the largest party in the devolved assembly, Sinn Fein, and others, repeatedly expressed pro-Palestine sentiments rather than horror at the terror inflicted by Hamas, with minimum controversy. 

To mark the attacks, an Irish language school, in west Belfast, even issued a social media post of a crowd of pupils posing with Palestinian flags. It included a video of a boy delivering a speech that culminated in a quote from the IRA terrorist Bobby Sands, ‘Our revenge will be the laughter of our children’. This display, which the school has since deleted, was published hours after decapitated Israeli babies and toddlers were found at a kibbutz targeted by Hamas. In Belfast, it seems that young people’s minds are being moulded, by an institution that should be educating them, to perpetuate terrorist ideology rather than question the hatred that made these atrocities possible. In Kfar Aza, there will be no more laughter for the murdered infants.      

In the Republic, meanwhile, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, condemned the attacks, then immediately and at length demanded ‘restraint’ from Israel, as opposed to supporting its right to defend itself properly against terrorism. It may be feral republicans who display the most ferocious anti-Israeli sentiment, but wider Irish nationalist society is saturated with it too. 

While the worst attempts to blame Israel in the rest of the UK, the US and Europe have at least been exposed and criticised, in Northern Ireland they have largely been ignored by the media, particularly the BBC, or reported as part of a spectrum of reactions to the events, as if they were legitimate or even unremarkable.

The Belfast News Letter, Northern Ireland’s only unionist daily, was the only newspaper to cover extensively the ‘outrage’ caused by pro-Palestinian posts and displays.  

For example, it recorded that the Sinn Fein MLA, Deirdre Hargey tweeted, ‘Free Free Palestine’, as Hamas’s atrocities unfolded. Her party’s youth wing uploaded a picture of a Palestinian flag, hours after the unprecedented assaults. The South Down MP, Chris Hazzard, posted that Israel’s ‘oppression, apartheid and colonisation… make violent revolution inevitable,’ urging ‘international actors’ to stand up for ‘Free Palestine’. As the Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattire noted, these remarks were, ‘Unbelievably crass… as bodies are dragged through the streets.’ 

Sinn Fein’s president, Mary-Lou McDonald, at least managed to describe the attacks as ‘truly horrific’, even as she followed that up by claiming the, ‘bombardment now of Gaza is equally to be condemned.’ Meanwhile, at the weekend, a group of ‘republican activists’ erected a giant Palestinian flag on Black Mountain, which overlooks west Belfast and is visible from much of the city. McDonald’s predecessor, Gerry Adams, responded by writing on X (formerly Twitter), ‘The Mountain Speaks! Free Palestine!’

It was, fairly obviously, impossible to miss for anyone in the Belfast area with a working set of eyes. 

The most obnoxious comment by an elected representative may have come from an MLA for People Before Profit, a party that combines neo-Marxist gibberish with old-fashioned nationalist prejudices. Gerry Carroll tweeted, ‘victory to the Palestinian resistance,’ as its proponents massacred revellers and paraded women’s lifeless bodies through the streets. 

We cannot be shocked or surprised by Irish separatists’ reactions to Hamas savagery. Nationalists in Ireland have expressed sympathies with Palestinians and drawn crude parallels between their own dispute with Britain and Zionist ‘colonialism’ ever since the dread-word ‘partition’ was first mooted for Palestine, under the League of Nations’ Mandate in 1947. 

In fact, they’ve tried consistently to equate their squalid ‘struggle’ with every perceived fight against oppression, or campaign for rights and recognition, across the world. This is despite the fact that Ireland has definitively not been a colony since 1801.

It is entirely expected that members of Sinn Fein, a party linked inextricably to Europe’s most prolific terrorist group, effectively excuse and even celebrate the inhumanity of Hamas. In his column in The Critic about the far-left’s reaction to the atrocities in Israel, Ben Sixmith wrote, ‘When somebody tells you who they are – and in creditably honest and explicit detail – believe them.’ Quite so.

It’s still an important reminder of what nationalists in Ireland, north and south, are increasingly endorsing when they visit the ballot box. Our own government, meanwhile, is consistently dismissive and patronising when unionists express concerns about concessions and special treatment for republicans. And much of the media, including the taxpayer funded BBC, would rather focus on the DUP’s so-called obstructionism at Stormont than report the putrid truth about Sinn Fein.

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Owen Polley is a writer, commentator, consultant, and the co-author 'An Agenda for Northern Ireland After Brexit'.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.